Welcome back to our annual series of season wrap-up posts, which we cleverly titled as “The Season (2017-18).” Your donation dollars at work, folks.
This year, we’re not following a rotation scheme. We’re keeping it a bit more random this go-round. Using a highly scientific line of inquiry (our future Lady Matmen is making the random selections, from Flagler Palm Coast forward), our next installment in the series is staying in 1A-District 2, with Wakulla. The War Eagles are our fourth team out of the district to be completed.
Each The Season post will have the same content as they’ve had for the past four seasons. At the request of a reader last season, we will note the accomplishments of each team’s senior class that will be moving on to new goals later this month or in June.
You can see everything I have on the War Eagles in 2017-18 here –> WAKULLA
Win/loss record: 23-1 in dual meets. Please review the attached document for a summary of the War Eagles’ performance in IBT events.
Season in a nutshell: The northwest’s strongest team certainly by season’s end if not in actual fact all year, the War Eagles began the season with a fourth-place team finish at South Walton’s Border Wars on the first weekend of December, and followed that up with a fifth at Capital City Classic nearer to home on the second weekend. Wakulla had its first duals experience at Yulee Duals on the third weekend of the month, rolling to an 8-0 start that became 16-0 after another eight wins at Ft Walton Beach’s Beast of the Beach just before Christmas. First up in January for the War Eagles was the inaugural 1A-District 2 duals tournament, with two wins there, followed by another two in the quarters and semis rounds of the 1A-Region 1 duals tourney. Wakulla kept up the winning with a title effort at the Trojan Invitational on January 13, but then incurred its only dual loss of the year at the 1A-Region 1 final, staged at Osecola HS in Kissimmee, on January 19. Undeterred, the War Eagles got back to work, with a solid doubling up of Lincoln on January 24, then a fifth-place finish at the Flagler Rotary to close out January. The War Eagles won their own IBT and closed out the regular season with dual wins over Ridgeview and Chiles on February 7, taking the 1A-District 2 traditional tournament title and finishing second at 1A-Region 1. Wakulla finished up the year with a 16th-place team finish — good for the top 25% — at states. The War Eagles lose just three seniors from this year’s team and has 15 returners back with 15 or more matches wrestled last season, including a very large chunk of their most successful kids, so if it can sort out who goes where, Wakulla should be the team to beat in the northwest once again in 2018-19.
Key returners (15+ matches this past season or post-season experience) for 2018-19 (with year in school as they’ll be next year): Jackson Merrick (sophomore, 20-19 at 106, district runnerup, 2-2 at regions); George Hernandez (sophomore, 10-10 at 106, did not compete in post-season); Raymond Hatchman (sophomore, 29-19 at 113, district runnerup, 2-2 at regions); Matthew Owen (junior, 45-17 at 120, district champ, region 3rd, state 6th); Blake Reeves (junior, 12-6 at 126, did not compete in post-season); Charlie Owens (senior, 18-12 at 132, district runnerup, 1-2 at regions); Jackson Osteen (sophomore, 11-13 at 145/152, did not compete in post-season); Chase Roberts (junior, 29-19 at 145, district champ, region 3rd, 1-2 at states); Noah Wilson (junior, 37-9 at 152, district runnerup, 1 match from states); Cole Baggett (sophomore, 16-18 at 160, district runnerup, 1-2 at regions); Trevor Hart (junior, 31-14 at 170, district champ, region 3rd, 0-2 at states); Andrew Annand (senior, 40-16 at 182, district runnerup, region runnerup, 0-2 at states); John Trevor Hinsey (junior, 43-11 at 195, district champ, region 3rd, 1-2 at states); Ronnie Thomas (senior, 20-9 at 195/220, did not compete in post-season); Darius Wilkins (senior, 53-5 at 285, district champ, region runnerup, 1 match short of state medal).
Graduation losses (15+ matches this past season or post-season experience) from this year’s team: Micah Lanier (42-11 at 138, district runnerup, region 4th, 0-2 at states); Ethan Brown (26-7 at 220, did not compete in post-season); Chayton Bussey (15-8 at 220, district champ, region 4th, 1-2 at states).
2017-18 MVP: How do you win 50+ matches almost quietly? Just ask Darius Wilkins, who probably flew under the radar during the course of this season after making a massive splash with his all-America performance at NHSCA Sophomore Nationals in the summer of 2017. That splash continued at Border Wars, where Wilkins pinned his way through the tournament. He would win his first nine matches and 38 of his first 39, with the only loss coming to the eventual 1A state champion. Wilkins was 8-0 at Yulee and at Beast of the Beach, and he pinned his way through the Trojan Invitational. He would take his second loss of the year at Flagler Rotary, to the 2A state finalist, and that would be it for losses until the 1A-Region 1 finals, with Wakulla and 1A-District 2 titles along the way. Wilkins went 5-2 with the eventual state champion in that Region 1 final, and then took two losses at states by a combined total of three points, with two pins besides, in a very deep 285-pound field. He’ll be among the contenders for a 1A state championship, no question about it, in 2018-19, and that certainly won’t happen quietly.
2018-19 captain: The deepest run of all the runs that the War Eagles had this past post-season belonged to Matthew Owen, and it came after a slow start and slow regular-season finish, but a torrid midseason and solid post-season push. Owen started 4-3 at Border Wars, with losses to a very solid Louisiana wrestler and two Florida placers. But from there, Owen would win 18 of his next 19 matches. That would include a runnerup effort at Capital City, an 8-0 performance at Yulee Duals, and 7-1 effort at Beast of the Beach. Owen would take a few lumps in mid-January, but won five of six matches at Flagler Rotary to wind up placing there, and then won nine matches in a row to take both Wakulla and 1A-District 2 titles, losing only to a 1A finalist in the semis at the Region 1 tournament. Owen had two very solid wins and two close matches in the consis and medal round in finishing sixth at states, and will be a rallying point for the many juniors in the lineup. There are a lot of kids who carry themselves and wrestle at captain-level for Wakulla, but picking just one means picking Owen out.
Heaton’s Hero: It’s not often that a wrestler that’s won 75 percent of his matches in the past year gets the nomination for this award, nor does it happen often that a senior gets the award. But when Ethan Brown learned that he would not be participating in the post-season and that another senior had beaten him out for the varsity spot at 220, Brown set to work not by sulking, but by making his teammates better, by serving as an assistant coach, doing whatever the coaching staff required, and learning about what it takes to coach the sport. Would that more kids would do this. When I learned about this — as it was happening, as the Wakulla delegation was leaving the region tournament — it was pretty much a slam dunk that Ethan Brown would be the Heaton’s Hero for Wakulla.
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